Friday, January 15, 2016

The Stolen Chapters by James Riley, 2016

This is just a heads-up that The Stolen Chapters is the sequel to James Riley's Story Thieves. If you haven't read that, you might not want to read this review if you're afraid of spoilers. You can click the links to check out Story Thieves on Goodreads and read my review of it.

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on Goodreads 
Owen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.
How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?
Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?

Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…
(368 pages)

What a contradiction Jame's Riley's writing is: so juvenile and plastic one minute, and so clever and heartwarming the next. I alternately think he's one of the most over-rated authors I've read, and one of the most under-rated. The Stolen Chapters provokes this unique frustration most of any of his books yet, and I am still struggling to come to grips with how I feel about it.

Because at first, I kind of hated The Stolen Chapters. It felt dry and contrived and forced, chock-full of overused tropes and uninteresting dilemmas. I didn't care very much about the characters, and everything seemed somehow less lovable than it had in the first book.

But then, in the second half, I found myself falling back in love. And the really irritating thing is that I can't even say why or how, or just how clever everything really was and how Riley tricked me and I love it so much - and you know why I can't talk about any of that? Because it's all a spoiler! His books are so clever and awesome, so that one minute I can be positive I've figured the story out and the next he turns everything on its head. Authors are lauded all the time for "keeping things fresh" and writing a story with "unexpected turns," but Riley's books are some of the genuinely twistiest books I have ever read.

I still don't absolutely love Stolen Chapters to pieces, though, certainly not the way I love Riley's amazing Half Upon a Time trilogy. I forgive Stolen Chapters for not engaging me in the beginning, because it was for a good reason, but I'm not sure other readers will be able to make it to the point where everything goes from cliche to great. And I love all the amazing twists and turns, but - okay, no downside to that; I genuinely loved the twists. I haven't fallen completely in love with the characters in Story Thieves, but they've definitely grown on me since the first book. I've even come to like Bethany pretty well, after finding her so annoying in Story Thieves, and I really like the new characters added in this book (especially the villain - who I really wish I could discuss without spoiling the ending!).

The writing is by no means complex, but it's very humorous and both books were a big hit with my fourteen-year-old brother. I recommend these books to middle schoolers, and to older kids/adults like me who still enjoy a good middle-grade read that's deeper than it appears at first glance.

And don't you dare skip the acknowledgements section - it's honestly even more hilarious than the book itself!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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